DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
By Jheri St. James
Zaire became the Democratic
Republic of Congo on May 16, 1997. This country should be the
envy of Africa. Twice the size of Texas,
it is the African continent’s third-largest country, after
Sudan and Algeria. It boasts fertile soil, vast mineral wealth
and the world’s eighth-longest river, a natural force powerful
enough to provide electricity to the entire African continent.
Leopold colonized Congo in the 19th century, but it was the
Belgians who began the plunder in earnest. The king amassed
a fortune in
diamonds and rubber
plantations. His employees were slaves, whose hands and feet he had cut off
as punishment for not meeting quotas.
people are confused by the name references in this region.
In 1483, Portuguese
Admiral Diago Cao arrived at the mouth of a large river. He asked the locals
who said “Ndazi” (river) which the Portuguese misheard as Zaire.
Since the Portuguese had named the river Zaire they automatically called anything
upriver or in the basin Zaire. In November 1908, the Belgian parliament changed
the name to the Belgian Congo. Half a century later in 1960, independence brought
the name Republic of Congo. In 1964, it was renamed the Democratic Republic
of Congo. The fact that there was another country peopled by the Bakonga tribe
matter. It was called Congo (Brazzaville) versus Congo (Kinshasa). The neighboring,
northwesterly area is known as the Republic of Congo.
“A vast country with immense economic resources, the Democratic Republic
of Congo (DR Congo) has been at the center of what could be termed Africa’s
world war,” says the online BBC News UK Edition of Feb. 16, 2005. “The
five-year conflict pitted government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and
Zimbabwe, against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda. But despite a peace deal
and the formation of a transitional government in 2003, the threat of civil war
remains. The war claimed an estimated 3,000,000 lives, either as a direct result
of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition. It has been called possibly
the worst emergency to unfold in Africa in recent decades. The war had an economic
as well as political side. Fighting was fueled by the country’s vast mineral
wealth, with all sides taking advantage of the anarchy to plunder its natural
Democratic Republic of Congo has a population of 56 million
in an area of 905,354 square miles (2.34 million sq. km.).
Its capital city is Kinshasa
major languages are French, Lingala, Kiswahili, Kikongo, and Tshiluba.
Its president is Joseph Kabila, who heads the interim government formed
in June 2003 . . .” (World
. . . synonyms of other words, used in many of our Common
Ground 191 journal entries, but all meaning the
same thing—people killing each other for earthly
resources—land, oil, minerals. There is no easy way to avoid
these words. One cannot delete the horrors of war. The writer is
a dilemma: to
once again chronicle the battles, the numbers, the outrages; or to
attempt to portray the deeper spirit essence of a land, its people,
we hope will become the crux of Common Ground 191, the spirit that
lives on after the time of slaughters, burials, grieving is done.
that spirit in
a timeless way.
all countries, at all times, artists work to express this
spirit of a people, a time, a place, an occurrence, a heart.
The website “www.Congo-Pages:
Explore the Democratic Republic of Congo”, created by Nick
Hobgood, is a, “. . . virtual safari filled with many images
from all over the country,” including
the art images in this journal entry. Unfortunately none of the
artists are named, so this presentation will contain pictures worth
of words. Mr. Hobgood
also includes information for divers, art, homes, food, animals,
a Judo club, symphonies, as well as geographical facts and basics.
plundering, land grabbing and killing, there is another category
of life that endures, apparently.
a way, these wooden masks represent life on earth, life above
ground. There is the external reality
of the mask, and the internal
life and death, and the invisible world—the thoughts and
emotions which provided the impetus for this special artistic
countries bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo are
Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic
of the Congo,
Uganda and Zambia. In December 2002, the new President Joseph
Kabila was successful
in getting occupying Rwandan forces to withdraw from eastern
Congo and two months later, the Pretorian Accord was signed
by all remaining
the fighting and set up a government of national unity. A
transitional government was set up and a new constitution
was adopted on
July 17, 2003, with Joseph
Kabila remaining as president, joined by four vice presidents
from the former government,
rebel camps and the political opposition. President Kabila’s
father, President Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001.
Joseph is the oldest of 10 children
fathered by Laurent. He surprised diplomats and observers
by declaring that he wanted to seek a peaceful end to his
civil war and to introduce a multi-party democracy.
World Factbook says, “Note: Estimates (of population)
for this country explicitly take into account the effects
of excess mortality
due to AIDS; this
can result in lower life expectancy (male: 47.06 years;
female: 51.28 years), higher infant mortality and death rates,
growth rates, and
changes in the distribution of population by age and sex
than would otherwise be expected.”
are left with a portrait of a country in transition; a country
name may again change; a country of young
of peace and
We wish them well. Noble faces with inward looking eyes,
like that above rendered
copper just above will live on. Our soil collector in
The Democratic Republic Congo was Jean-Le’on Bonnechere,
who is related to the owner of a shop called Euro Kitchens
here in Laguna Beach, California.
Certainly the story of
this soil collection would be interesting, but we have
been unable to reach Mr. Bonnechere for those details.
If and when they are forthcoming,
we will gladly
include them in this journal entry. They remain invisible.
look at it and do not see it;
Its name is The Invisible.
We listen to it and do not hear it;
Its name is The Inaudible.
We touch it and do not find it;
Its name is The Formless.”
Lao-Tzu (604-531 B.C.)
“If we observe the world around us, it’s easy to see that what we
can’t see is more powerful than what we can. Take a look at air, for example.
Air is hard to look at, of course, because it’s invisible. (In the places
where you can see the air, what you’re seeing is pollution, not air.) On
earth, air is more powerful than almost anything we know. It contains ample amounts
of oxygen for animals, and lots of carbon dioxide for plants. Without it, both
would die. It is a lifeline that is so omnipresent (it’s always as close
as your next breath) we usually take it for granted. It’s essential to
our functioning for even the next ten minutes. And yet it’s invisible.
“‘All right,’ some may say, ‘What about something physical
like a house? You can see a house, and if someone dropped a house on you, it
would kill you faster than taking air away from you, so wouldn’t a house
be more powerful?’ What would make the house fall? Gravity—another
of those powerful invisible ‘forces’ we take for granted. If gravity
didn’t pull the house down, the house would have no power to destroy.
“And what about light? You can’t ‘see’ light. It’s
when light reflects off something that we can see its effects. We can see the
glow of the light bulb, and we can see the light it casts, but we can’t
see the light traveling from the bulb to the objects it’s illuminating.
“If the sun radiates enough light to illuminate the earth, why is the space
between here and the sun dark? Because the light waves are invisible until they
strike something—namely the earth’s atmosphere (which is made of
our good old invisible friend, air—and held in place by our invisible
“And heat? We can’t see heat, but we can certainly feel it. If it
wasn’t for the invisible atmosphere (air) of our planet, held in place
by invisible gravity, holding invisible heat, do you know how cold the earth
would be? Cold. About 280 degrees below zero at night.
“Coolness is just as important for human survival—and until things
approach the freezing point, coolness can’t be easily perceived either.
“Can you tell the temperature of a tub of water by just looking at it?
Unless it’s hot enough to steam or cold enough to freeze, you probably
can’t. Can you tell how warm or cool a room is by looking at it through
a pane of glass? Again, unless there are some clues, probably not.
inside ourselves for a moment, we find that our most powerful
inner motivators can’t be seen. Love, hate, passion,
greed, fear, desire, lust, compassion, charity, goodness—all
the emotions that set us into motion can’t be seen.
The effects can certainly be seen, but the emotions themselves,
thoughts, well, thoughts are so invisible (yes, you can ‘see’ your
own thoughts, but nobody else can) and so powerful, we
think they deserve a chapter all to themselves.” (Quoted
from McWilliams, Peter & John-Roger.
Life 101. Los Angeles: Prelude Press. 1991.)
us contemplate the art of the fluctuating Democratic Republic
of Congo, that visible expression of unseen
thoughts and emotions,
the media of copper, wood, paint and malachite
are products of the earth. Perhaps
by reflecting deeply enough we can even alter the
invisible world of negative thoughts and feelings at
of all the Democratic
external tragedies. That’s what Common Ground
191 is committed to doing—using
art as a process to bring the spirit of the soils
of the world together and in so doing, unite them
symbolically—and ultimately visibly.
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